This week, Zsófi is talking about the costs of being vegan, and the effects the cost of living crisis has had on vegetarians and vegans. Scroll to the end for her top tips on being vegan on a budget!
Since the spring of last year, the UK has been experiencing high rates of inflation, the likes of which were last seen more than 50 years ago. Energy bills have skyrocketed, petrol is unaffordable, and food costs are at a 13-year high. This cost of living crisis has affected everyone, and amongst the useless or plain bogey advice on how to keep our costs down, people are looking for genuine relief from the higher prices.
We have all dealt with the crisis differently, maintaining varying levels of sanity: you’ll now frequently find me running around supermarkets in a frenzy, back and forth between two ends of the tinned food aisle comparing prices of different brands of kidney beans, swearing under my breath that five pennies really do make a difference to my monthly (slightly unrealistic) budget.
Many of my friends have taken to high levels of pot noodle consumption, because no recipes will ever beat £1.20 for dinner. I have heard of others who have simply skipped meals because well, that’s even cheaper than a pot noodle. None of these options are recommended and frankly, we are all open to better suggestions.
But it made me think. As many of you know, I ditched animal products many years ago, long before the cost of living crisis. And it seems to me that many in the UK are also joining me: the number of Brits following a plant-based diet has been steadily increasing in the last few years, with a 40% increase in 2020 alone. At this rate, it is estimated that by 2025, one quarter of the UK will be following a vegan lifestyle.
Now to all these newbies, welcome! I’m happy you found something that works for you. But also, beware! From now on, there are some things you will have to get used to, chief amongst them, avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy. Very close second to that, trying your best at dodging questions about how you’re not dead yet due to iron insufficiency. Yes, discussions about the way you eat will now be a topic of conversation more frequently than perhaps you would like (and if you’re like me, the ideal number would be zero).
However, occasionally, very occasionally, there will be a chat or two that is surprisingly stimulating, and I had one of these rather recently. The person at the other end of the conversation was telling me how they’d considered going vegan but were deterred by the unaffordable prices of vegan foods.
I had heard this idea before and especially considering the cost of living crisis, I find it an important question to answer. In a world where cutting corners on every expenditure is a must, it is important to find food that not only nourishes your body but also leaves your pocket heavy. Is the vegan diet a financially sustainable option for both higher and lower income families? Is it merely a more expensive counterpart to the affordable meat-eating diet? Or, a third, perhaps more unexplored question, could it be a way to save money?
Big disclaimer here: I do not intend to tell anybody what to eat or how to fuel your bodies. I firmly believe that you are entitled to eat in any way that you desire, and especially within the context of the cost of living today, as long as you manage to keep yourself and your family well-fed, I am so happy for you. This article was written purely to satisfy my curiosity and perhaps contribute to satisfying yours.
Read more from Zsófi…
Is Veganism Expensive?
No. Well, yes. Both. It depends on what you buy. The vegan diet, being purely plant-based, is mostly built of produce: fruit, vegetables, legumes, and carbs. These ingredients alone, if consumed in the right way, can provide your body the nutrition that it requires.
For protein, you should include lentils, beans, green peas, and quinoa in your meals. If you need iron, bring out your olives, oats, peanuts, or spinach. If you are worried about your vitamin levels, eat some nuts and you’ll be perfectly nourished. A diet based on these staples is fresh, organis, healthy, and … relatively inexpensive. So why has veganism gained such a pricy reputation?
With the popularity of veganism on the rise, so is the number of vegan replacement products. Your standard supermarket will now most likely sell some versions of non-dairy milk, vegan cheese, vegan meat, burgers, and sausages, vegan chocolates, donuts, ice creams, and other desserts – and recently even vegan eggs have made an appearance!
And here is where the trouble starts: many vegan replacement products will be at least 1.5 times pricier than their non-vegan counterparts. Take Tesco’s, for example: a litre of oat milk is double the price of a litre of cow’s milk, four beef burgers cost the same as two non-vegan burgers, and the price of 400g of vegan cheddar will get you 600g of non-vegan cheddar.
Walking by the vegan aisles of the supermarket, eyeing these increased prices, you might be inclined to believe that eating plant-based is unaffordable, and frankly, not worth it. However, research has shown that vegan meals are 40% cheaper than their carnivore counterparts. This project also tracked purchases from 30,000 British households for a year and found that vegan households spend 8% less on a grocery trip: the average vegan shopping basket lands at about £16.47 while a non-vegan shopping basket adds up to £17.91.
How can this be? Well, talking mainly from experience here, vegan replacement products do not make up the bulk of our diet, in fact, they are reserved for treats or for meals from our meat-eating days we just couldn’t forget.
Furthermore, the cost of meat has also gone up in the last couple of years and well, if there is one thing vegans will never have to spend money on, it’s meat. The truth is, every diet can be expensive or cheap, depending on what products or brands you choose to buy, and the ratio of cooking – eating out.
Read more from Zsófi…
How to Eat Cheap on a Vegan Diet
If you’re on a vegan diet and trying to save money, my advice would be this:
- Use pantry food such as lentils, beans, pasta and include fresh produce as much as you can into your meals. This will ensure your meals are healthy, nutritious, and affordable.
- Try and buy vegan replacement products for only specific recipes or when you’re craving them. There’s nothing wrong with splurging a little bit on your favourite ice cream or eating sausage rolls for breakfast, the same way people following any other diet would do occasionally. Just make sure these are in addition to your meals, not the other way.
- Try out new recipes! Don’t just try and recreate the meals you used to eat in your shameful meat-eating days, this will only lead to an excessive consumption of processed vegan meats. Rather, try out new combinations with the wide array of ingredients available to you, and I promise you’ll see just how tasty vegetables really are.